About this blog

This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Like 'Inception', only lower budget (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.X, "Last Christmas")

Clara is preparing for a Christmas without Danny Pink when suddenly something crashes on her roof; and it's not the TARDIS.

  • The Doctor was wonderfully crabby in this episode (pun intended). Mind you, Capaldi's 'costume' has hardly featured in full; this is a Doctor far more comfortable in a hoodie than a formal shirt.
  • Keeping it unclear whether Clara was staying or going until the end of the episode definitely added things to this. Mind you, the old person make up was unconvincing.
  • Nick Frost did a fun performance as Santa; I can see why the final shot was like so. Mind you, I'm not sure Ian and Wolf really added much to the proceedings and the CGI budget didn't stretch to more than three reindeer.
  • I like it when a show is open about its influences and that's a brilliant joke about Alien, which is arguably a trope in science fiction in general that Doctor Who has done much to try to correct.
  • So, what was real and what wasn't? They made it clear early on not to trust your senses. Mind you... [If you say 'Mind you' one more time, I'll delete your Star Citizen screenshots - Ed.]
  • Good to see Danny Pink again; it gave some further closure to the character. M... sorry, I'm not sure we actually needed that though.
  • I actually have had dreams where I know that I'm dreaming. Mind you, I've had some weird ones in my time.
  • This is a show that doesn't need graphic special effects to do chilling horror. The dialogue doesit just fine.
  • Of the guest characters, I have to say I liked Shona best. We need more like her.
  • So, "The Magican's Apprentice", eh? I wonder who that could be?

Conclusion

Somewhat of a slow starter, but the ending was very good.

8/10

Friday, 12 December 2014

Place this on the Very Good shelf (Review: 'The Librarians' 1.1, "...And the Crown of King Arthur" and 1.2, "...And the Sword in the Stone")

As I've probably mentioned before, I spent five years at secondary school as a pupil librarian... and in that whole time, I never met one who looked like Rachel Weisz. Or for that matter Noah Wyle.

So, naturally, I have an interest in things bibliothèque, as they say in the French Republic.
Back in the last decade, Noah Wyle (ER, Falling Skies) starred in three TV movies as Flynn Carsen, a nerd with more degrees than I've had pints of lager who gets a magical invitation to interview to become a librarian at the Metropolitan Public Library. Not just a librarian, but The Librarian, keeper of The Library, a secret underground storage facility for magical artefacts like the Ark of the Covenant too dangerous to be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. The movies got repeated fairly frequently on Sky1, but I never had a reason to watch them until now.
I watched the first a while back and the second two before watching this, hence the delay in this going up. I found the first good but not brilliant, highly enjoyed the second and will say that Stana Katic adds considerable bite (pun fully intended) to a very good third.

When I saw that TNT were making a series following up the movies, I decided to make a reservation. Seeing Christan Kane (Elliot in Leverage) and Lindy Booth in the cast attracted me... the fact that former Victoria's Secret model turned actor Rebecca Romijn was in it completely passed me by - I've only ever seen one X-Men movie and Mystique really didn't make that big an impression on me. While Noah Wyle is in this, he is only a recurrer, due to his commitments to the fifth and final season of Falling Skies, handing lead duties to Romijn.

****
This two part opener sees all-action NATO counter-terrorism agent Colonel Eve Baird (Romijn) run into The Librarian while on a mission in Berlin; both having to defuse deadly devices at the same time. Afterwards, she gets a magical white envelope inviting her to join The Library, where she becomes The Guardian, the tactical specialist whose job it is to look after Carsen and serve as the common sense to his "head in the clouds". The show's producers worked on Leverage between movies and series, sticking in a good number of Doctor Who references and Carsen is basically a full-blown one. While the James Bond/Indiana Jones/The Doctor fusion pre-dates Matt Smith's Eleventh version of the last by six years, Carsen is an Eleven expy here, down to a penchant for bow ties and tweed jacket - in fact, I wonder if Carsen influenced the Moff in creating Eleven. Not that there is anything wrong with that... although it's a good thing he's a recurrer, as it does start to grate after a while.

Investigating the mysterious death of someone in the public area of the Metropolitan Public Library, they learn that the evil Serpent Brotherhood (which does include a Dark Action Girl, parking a suitably evil British accent as well as the guy who played Dr. Leekie in Orphan Black) has been killing off the top other candidates from when Carsen got the job ten years earlier. They discover that three are still alive and go to collect them, embarking on a mission to stop the Brotherhood from destroying the world.

****

The plot allows for the setting up of the main premise of the show quite easily - as well as eliminating two expensive guest star fees from the outgoings, not to mention removing the need for a considerable amount of CGI in the Library proper. We get the by-now-standard plot for this franchises, which involves finding the location of a mysterious dangerous artefact, then getting to said artefact before the bad guys can use it to do nasty things.

Baird's job is basically to kick backside, deal with authorities and wear a blonde top knot; I found myself reminded of Clara, albeit with more punchiness. The other characters, all straight-up geniuses:
  • Cassandra: The synthesia (and brain tumour - this is important to the plot) packing maths genius, she's definitely the heart of the team and while she doesn't have a great start, she's adorable in her own way. Booth does an excellent job here.
  • Jacob: A Mid-Western oil worker who is secretly an art historian, Christian Kane is essentially reprising his Elliot role; not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • Eziekel: The professional thief of the trio, his appetite for nicking stuff that isn't nailed down might lead to plot problems later.

The CGI effects in this are very good and en par with the stuff Doctor Who does on a weekly basis; but not being the BBC means that they're probably going to have to limit themselves a tad.

This is a very, very funny show - it doesn't take itself hugely seriously and willingly lampshades its own ridiculousness (prosciutto blowtorch anyone?), with good quotes a plenty.


Conclusion

The first half is pretty awesome; the second while still good, starts to get a bit predictable. I'm reminded of Steven Moffat-era Doctor Who more than anything else and while this shows clear promise, it remains to be seen if it will fulfil that. I hope and think it will.

8/10

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Three candidates for Extraordinary General Coordinator election

Following the closure of nominations for the vacant position of General Coordinator, three candidates have accepted being put forward for the position:

  • Dale "SoapyMac"
  • Misty "Misty Wilson" - the current Acting General Coordinator
  • Giorgio "Ksabers"
 Campaigning is now ongoing and the elections will be held on 19 December - 2 January.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Waltz with Bassam (Grand Review: 'Tyrant' Season 1)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a5/TyrantFXLogo.jpg

Howard Gordon has had a busy year, depending on what he actually did as executive producer, one of the most meaningless titles in showbusiness. With 24: Live Another Day, Homeland season 4, 24: India and Legends with him holding the credit... and this, it's clear that the Emmy-winner is clearly setting out his stake in the espionage/intrigue world.

And this series, which aims to combine high politics ad family drama with a thought-provoking view on the whole Arab Spring thing.

(This review contains spoilers)

****
Pasadena-based paediatrician Barry al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) is enjoying his life with his wife Molly and their two children when he is invited to visit the Middle Eastern republic of Abbudin for the wedding of his nephew. This is no ordinary nephew and Barry, or to use his full name, Bassam, is no ordinary guy. You see, he's the second son of the country's autocratic President, who has a penchant for dealing with rebels the violent way, including as we learn later, via poison gas attacks. Barry has been away for 20 years, while his older brother and heir apparent, Jamal, has been enjoying power and raping women just because he can.

The wedding of a nephew I'm calling "Arab Chumlee" goes off without a terrorist attack, but there is a bit of drunken firearms discharge... and it's clear that Arab Chumlee is turning out a bit like his dad. However, his father dies and Jamal becomes President, albeit after a car accident where one of his latest victims performs a groin attack.

Barry decides to stay and try to moderate Jamal's rule, a task made harder when a spot of self-immolation sets off an Arab Spring-style uprising. Then things get more complex...

****
This is an interesting story; while it's saying nothing that someone with a half-decent knowledge of Middle Eastern politics wouldn't really know already (the Americans prefer stability over democracy, the leaders are jerks and the alternative might be worse), we get a fairly gripping story with more than a few twists and turns along the way... and some US viewers probably need the education. One is reminded of Game of Thrones, in the "you win or you die" sense rather than the nudity everywhere sense (every episode aired on FX aired with a content warning for at least violence); characters do die frequently and no-one is probably safe, with the probable exception of the frankly dodgy US Ambassador. In addition, the title sequence is clear intended to invoke that show/ It's a pity we don't get more detail on Abbudin; I have no idea of its size, overall history etc. At least we get an actual flag for it!
 
The key focus of my attention is Jamal (Ashraf Barhom); inspired by Uday Hussein, he combines a firm desire to stay in power with being completely sadistic and evil. At times, he practically sprays his lines and while I've not had nightmares about him, you can imagine he might cause a few.

Adam Rayner caught a considerable amount of flak for being, well, white - his character's arc is interesting and we can clearly see that he has a complex back story. However, he's not the best thing in this one by far - and if the cliffhanger goes the opposite way to what I'm thinking, the show might be better without him.

The kids are annoying and mercifully sidelined fairly quickly... Jennifer Finnigan's Molly really just exists to be the blonde woman in the low-cut dresses, while Molly's sister really needs a lesson in appropriate dressing while in the Middle East... this ain't a bare your midriff land at all!

Conclusion

Renewed for a second series, it will be interesting to see where this goes for that. Enjoyable definitely, but needs further work.

8/10

Friday, 21 November 2014

Phoenix to hold Extraordinary General Coordinator election

Following a determination that General Coordinator Jason Andersen has gone AWOL (he has not indicated when he is likely to return from his LOA and emails have gone unanswered), Misty Wilson has been appointed as Acting General Coordinator until an extraordinary election can be held.

Nominations will be accepted over the next two weeks until 5 December, with campaigning and voting to follow - the process should be completed by early January.

Details and nominations can be found here.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Again late, but again worth waiting for: the latest edition of The Burning Question has arrived. The Artist’s Corner is back and we also have an interview with new GM Jason Andersen for you. Enjoy!

You can find the latest edition of The Burning Question here:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/109 … 6_2014.pdf
 
Misty Wilson

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Phoenix Roleplaying to host Fall Fest 2014!

Phoenix Roleplaying has been selected to host this year's Fall Fest, the prestigious annual simming festival. With our Squiddie earlier this year, this will make a great conclusion to 2014 for Phoenix.

More information and a schedule can be found here - please attend or even better offer to help!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Hey Missy, she's so mad (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.12, "Death in Heaven")

Concluding this two-parter, Missy is about to turn the dead of Earth into an army of Cybermen.
  • I loved the opening credits gag.
  • Capaldi was on great form throughout this episode - with many great lines, including the bit about "self-concussing".
  • Coleman was on fine form as well - pretending to be the Doctor was excellent, but the last scene in the cafe was good as well (a great onbe f
  • Samuel Anderson did a lovely performance; it's a shame that he won't be coming back now.
  • Michelle Gomez... just when you thought a certain Time Lord couldn't get any crazier, she comes along and knocks Simms' portrayal into a cocked hat. Poor Oswin..
  • Shame we couldn't have had the Tissue Compression Eliminator. Disintegration is so old hat.
  • You don't need to hit the console like that Doctor, it wasn't your fault.
  • The street scene where Missy was arrested was very recognisably Cardiff, as was the ending scene.
  • It's really quite appropriate that Missy was dealt with in that manner.
  • At least the ending was jolly... and it's about time Nick Frost joined Simon Pegg in the Whoniverse.

Conclusion

An enjoyable and suitably epic season finale, which wasn't afraid to actually kill off some characters. Christmas will be interesting.

8/10

A wild Vermillion City has appeared!

We have a new Firefly sim at Phoenix Roleplaying - Vermillion City. Created by Deborah Leighton Plom, this "southern Gothic detective sim" is set on the planet Greenleaf, home of the 'Verse's pharmaceutical industry.

There is a dedicated site with more information - a great job by Mrs Leighton Plom that should certainly be checked out!

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Well, I can't say I saw that one coming (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.11, "Dark Water")

When Danny Pink is killed in a road accident, Clara gets the Doctor to try and bring him back from the dead... but the two discover that 'death' can be a very
  • Trailers always mislead; the scene with Clara was only a small bit of the episode; and the Moff does lovely get-outs.
  • Was it me or was the theme out of sync again this week.
  • Moffat's version of the Twelfth Doctor is very grumpy and very alien; his reaction to the kissing was very different to Eleven.
  • 57 fan-fic writers just punched the air!
  • Clara had some great stuff here; grief can cause you to do funny things. However, was Missy expecting her to do that? If so, bad writing.
  • The whole Nethersphere arrival thing reminded me some what of the final Virgin New Adventures Timewyrm novel.
  • Lovely to see the Cybermen back, but I guess that UNIT will be in the episode next week... and hopefully we'll get some proper Cyber-action.
  • Yes, I got the organic material joke too.
  • I guessed Danny had shot a kid. Sort of thing you'd get with a character like that
  • Well, I wasn't expecting that to be Missy's identity.
Conclusion

That episode flew by; I didn't even realise that we were coming towards the end. Which means it really absorbed my attention, although the start was a bit slow.

8/10

Monday, 27 October 2014

Not Wooden At All (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.10, "In the Forest of the Night")

The Doctor arrives in the centre of London, to find it has been filled with a massive forest.

  • Capaldi was excellent in this one. We seem to have finally got a good idea of the core concept of this character; grumpy, aloof but also very funny.
  • Clara and Danny are turning into a great couple; they have wonderful arguments and I'm really liking Danny. Still wondering what his dark secret is.
  • Lots of kids in this one (this seems to be a theme of this season) and they had some great bits. I loved the girl who found 'x'.
  • In the forest of the night? It all took place in daylight!
  • I see no-one actually set fire to a tiger; now that would be cruel. They really are big cats from when I've seen them 'live'
  • The whole signs and traffic lights thing reminded me of Falling Skies, but without the grimness of that. As well as far fewer deaths.
  • Frank Cottrell Boyce also wrote the London Olympics Opening Ceremony; I've got to say that was actually one of my favourite bits of those Games... unlike the other ceremonies.
  • There was brilliant dialogue in this, reminiscent of Moffat. 
  • Hitting the old reset button again?! The final scene was tacked on, but it probably needed to be there.

Conclusion

A rather tree-mendous episode. Get it, tree-mendous.

I'll get me coat...

9/10

Monday, 20 October 2014

A Pacer, but not a Sprinter (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.9, "Flatline")

Clara, with some assistance from the Doctor who is trapped in the TARDIS, has to stop some two-dimensional aliens.
  • Clara was doing the Doctor-y stuff this week and doing very well at it; you could do an entire series (or novel) with just her.
  • There were some great scenes with Capaldi in the TARDIS and we've now firmly established "pudding brain" as a catchphrases. Many a laugh, that's for sure.
  • The creatures were scary, if a bit two-dimensional (ba boom tish).
  • Does Doctor Who not have the kudos to actually use a DMU type that hasn't been retired from the main network for over a decade? I'd love to see a Pacer get destroyed.
  • Definitely not doing the 'everyone lives' trick these days, that's for sure.
  • Bristol? Not a choice I'd make, but nothing wrong with it.
  • Stan was a real nasty piece of work; wasn't the actor in Auf Wiedersehen Pet?
  • That banishment speech? So done before. It was supposed to feel epic, but it was just derivative.
  • The plot thickens with Missy...

Conclusion

Certainly one that engaged the attention with a good deal of humour, although I have to admit the train bit annoyed me.

7/10

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Not Quite First Class, but heading there (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.8, "Mummy on the Orient Express")

The Doctor and Clara (surprisingly) board a hyperspace version of the Orient Express, where an invisible mummy is picking people off.

  • Capaldi was again great in this episode; I doubt the Doctor is heartless deliberately, but he certainly comes across that way.
  • I'm sure that Clara's flapper outfit will get some positive comments among the fans; she's definitely been given a Fan Service Pack this season.
  • I'm glad that they chucked in the line about it being slightly bigger than the 'real' one; you know what the fans can be like.
  • Frank Skinner was rather good in this; I've not seen him in much as a serious actor and hopefully he'll do some more.
  • This wasn't the best paced story in the world; the resolution was a little sudden.
  • Some great lines in this; I particularly liked what seemed to be a Tom Baker impression by Capaldi, but Coleman got some good ones too.
  • Gus... total psycho; reminds me of GlaDOS from Portal.
  • Jelly babies in a cigarette case? Classic.
  • Still would like Danny Pink to actually leave Earth.

Conclusion

An enjoyable episode, but by no means a classic.

7/10

Thursday, 9 October 2014

That's going to give some people arachnophobia (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.7, "Kill the Moon")

  • A superb performance from Capaldi here, with lots of humour and also lots of 'menace'. I'm reminded of "The Waters of Mars" (which also featured the Doctor acting like that)
  • Jenna Coleman - excellent. Spending most of the episode in a spacesuit allowed us to focus on her acting skills rather than her outift.
  • Courtney Woods turns up again... and she's not annoying at all. I've changed my mind about kids in the TARDIS; she'd be welcome back.
  • Great stuff from Hermione Norris. Bumping off her two colleagues allowed for focus on an excellent actor, but does she ever do anything apart from cynical.
  • Nice to see some Mexicans in space... unfortunately they ended up dead. We didn't even get any of their names... not even a haunting photo.
  • Spider effects were great... and Capaldi is of course not the first Doctor to be face-hugged in something.
  • Lunar surface frankly needed some micro-craters. It's getting hit by stuff all the time.
  • I'm sure there's some conservation of matter/energy errors here.
  • Lots of nice little references here... including to Blinovitch!
  • Next week looks like a Clara-lite episode; that will be interesting.

Conclusion

An excellent, highly thought-provoking episode, with possibly big ramifications for the show.

9/10

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Burning Question #18

Although the August issue of The Burning Question comes at the last day of September, this will not be a double issue. Behind the scenes we are already working on the next issue. But there's no denying that this issue is indeed rather late in appearing. There are several reasons for that, but there is little use going into them. Regretfully there is no Artist's Corner in this issue, but fear not: this doesn't mean that this section has been cancelled and the next issue should again have a page filled with the art of one of our members.

Anyway, despite the delay I hope you'll enjoy the latest issue of our newsletter which you can read here:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/109478868/Phoenix_newsletter_05_2014.pdf

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Cool enough for school (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.6, "The Caretaker")

Gareth Roberts has written two previous stories where the Doctor has gone undercover as a human. Teaming up with Steven Moffat, he's done a third and it's better than the last time.
  • Peter Capaldi is demonstrating a considerable talent for comedy that I hitherto didn't realise... but then again, I didn't watch The Thick of It.
  • Jenna Coleman is continuing to excel here; loads of great lines and I see Gallifrey Base has a thread on her skirt.
  • I hope that Danny Pink gets to travel on the TARDIS at some point; he'd be good once the Doctor learned to fully accept him.
  • The whole gag with the teacher in a bow tie... excellent. I can see why the Doctor thought that (then again he does have an inflated opinion of himself)
  • Will we see the invisibility watch again? Possibly, possibly not.
  • There wasn't a huge amount of plot in this, more comedy with a plot tacked on.
  • I like the bit in the parents' evening about the "disruptive influence".
  • Courtney reminded me of that kid from "Nightmare in Silver" last year.
  • Nice little homage toThe Bill with the PCSO there.
  • Next week looks very interesting indeed.
Conclusion

Enjoyable, but by no means a great... I did start clock watching.

7/10

Sunday, 28 September 2014

50 years and counting (History of 'Doctor Who')

When Orla Brady was offered a guest role in "The Time of the Doctor" as a space priestess, she accepted it without even reading the script. Peter Capaldi almost did the same when he guest starred in "The Fires of Pompeii", but was convinced otherwise.
That's a sign of the prestige of Doctor Who. A show where you can escape from the repetitive cop drama or kitchen sink roles and travel into space; something that doesn't just apply for the actors - even the title sequence is enjoyable, which is something I can say about few shows today[1].
It's one reason why the show is now in its 34th season, with 812 full length episodes to its name as of November 2014. Another is the fact that it is not bound to one particular actor or one particular producer; the show has turned them over at a rate greater than pretty much any other show that I can think of... with the possible exception of Saturday Night Live[2].
There are other reasons though:
  • The general quality of the leads: It's true to say that there has never been a bad Doctor. Even Colin Baker, whose Big Finish works are very good and very popular. The companions may be hit-and-miss, but when they hit, they hit. It's a pity few of them have gone on to really big things.
  • The plots: not just bad aliens come to take over Earth and are killed by good humans, this show brought us 'aliens' who were here before humans.
  • Some of the concepts: other shows may have their cool spaceships like the Enterprise and Serenity (ironically, considered junk in its verse), but a telephone box bigger on the inside that can travel anywhere in space-time?
    • Also, a character who when faced with death can change his appearance, allowing for a total of 13 actors (in the main show) to have taken the leading role... as well as for each to put their own perspective on it.
    • The sonic screwdriver. I'd want one.
  • The lack of reliance on special effects: Let's face it, much, correction most, of the special effects from 1963-1989 don't stand up to modern scrutiny; but they've never been the be-all-and-end-all of the show. Indeed some of the best effects have been the simpler ones; the Dalek extermination, the TARDIS materialisation... and the original title sequence.
  • The fans: Without the devotion and continued work of the show's many fans, it would not have come back... and many people wouldn't be working on the show today had they not been fans.
All in all, Doctor Who has survived because it's not just a good show... it's a brilliant show.
****
When doing such a long work as a history of a 50-year-old sci-fi programme, one has to use a variety of sources. This list won't be comprehensive, so I apologise to anyone I've missed out, but the following have proven invaluable.

Books
  • The Television Companion (First edition 1996, revised edition 2003 – I own the 1996 edition) by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker – a standard tome for the book that covers each story with transmission dates, trivia and excerpts from contemporary, as well as more modern reviews. A must-have -  it's proven very useful for my reviews of incomplete stories.
  • The Discontinuity Guide (First edition 1995, second edition 2003 – I own the first) by Paul Cornell, Keith Topping and Martin Day – another of the standard reference books for the show, I picked this up in a charity shop and it was a positive bargain. It covers all the classic era stories (plus "Shada" and "Dimensions in Time"), with quotes, goofs and a brief analysis for each story.
  • Whology – Doctor Who: The Offical Miscellany (2013) by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright – an official compilation of facts, statistics of varying randomness and lists for the 50th anniversary; including the Doctor's family tree! This goes up to "The Snowmen" and excludes "Shada" from various calculations.
  • Doctor Who: The Vault (2013) by Marcus Hearn - another official anniversary book, covering the history of the show with many previously unpublished pictures, especially of merchandise.

Magazines/Fanzines
  • Doctor Who Magazine – running since 1979, mostly monthly but originally weekly under title of Doctor Who Weekly, the official (but editorially independent) mag published by Panini, who took over the British arm of Marvel Comics in 1985, has a regular comic strip, features galore and many an exclusive. It also holds the world record for longest-running magazine based on a TV show.
  • Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games – Issue #18 contains a comprehensive list of every DW video game yet released.
  • Radio Times - running since 1923, this high-quality British TV listings magazine is always good for some interesting facts.
Podcasts
  •  DWO Whocast – Dave Keep has some particularly good insights on the classic run, although he no longer hosts the show.
  • Radio Free Skaro
  • Splendid Chaps – a series of live shows from Australia for the anniversary year.

Websites and blogs
****
While this has been a real labour, it's also been a labour of love. I've been a fan of the show for over half my life and I estimate the amount of money I've spent on this show as at least a thousand pounds, including a train trip to Cardiff to do a walking tour[2]. I have to say that the research I've done has been at times illuminating for me; I've definitely learnt a lot from this.
I've certainly made some inaccurate statements (I seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick over Holmes writing while script editing - it appears to be a union thing) and I'd like to apologise for those.
Thank you very much for reading this and I hope you enjoyed it.
[1]Current exceptions to this: Person of Interest, Game of Thrones and er that's about it.
[2]While my experience with SNL is distinctly limited (it doesn't air in the UK and I don't do torrenting), I have experienced a number of its alumni in other shows, such as Amy Poehler in Parks & Recreation, Julia-Louis Dreyfus in Veep or before he appeared on SNL, Kenan Johnson in Kenan & Kel. Also, one of my favourite films is The Blues Brothers, who of course started on the show!
[3]Lessons learnt from this: The Class 43 HST feels faster than the Class 395 Javelin despite being 15 mph slower, Cardiff is a very nice place and I should go First Class more often.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Not exactly Triple-A rated (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.5, "Time Heist")

 (Apologies for accidentally posting this too early)

The Doctor and Clara find themselves robbing the most secure bank in the universe.
  • Capaldi was good in this episode; good but not brilliant; even the best have an off day.
  • Clara's outfit (which Jenna Coleman wears in the Doctor Who extra interview clips) reminded me a lot of Sarah Jane Smith.
  • The other two 'robbers', OK, but not great.
  • Keeley Hawes did her one or two note role very well; all she really needed to be was slimy banker.
  • Is it me or did the Teller look like something I've seen somewhere else?
  • Awful lot of corridors in this one.
  • I've seen this movie... the black man dies first!
  • I saw one of the big twists coming a mile off.
  • Another 'Moffat Loop', really? Yes, it is possible for him to write stories without them.
  • No great revelations, no Missy... this was very much a filler episode.
Conclusion
Reasonable, but not exactly the most engaging thing in the world. Next week looks better.

6/10

Jailhouse Trock (Review: 'Doctor Who: The Blood Cell', 2014, by James Goss)


Of course my "Eleven Faces of Who" ended up dragging on for so long that it is now "Thirteen Faces of Who"; this will be my sole Twelfth Doctor entry and I have one more Tenth Doctor novel to read to so I can finally conclude this series of reviews.

The BBC, unsurprisingly, has released three tie-in novels featuring Twelve and Clara to tie in with Season 34... and this one is distinctly unusual in its style.

Where we're at
This is set in the 'early' part of this Doctor's life; Danny Pink is mentioned but not present.

The plot
The Governor of an asteroid prison receives a highly dangerous criminal called The Doctor... who warns him than unless he listens to him, a lot of people are going to die.

What works
  • The novel is written entirely in the first person, the journal of the unnamed prison Governor; it's always interesting to see someone do something different.
  • The background of HomeWorld is well worth a re-visit.
  • There are some wonderful jokes about the novels of Jeffrey Archer (who of course did time for perverting the course of justice), TripAdvisor and unlocking achievements.
  • The Twelfth Doctor is wonderfully grumpy and alien, yet caring as well.
What doesn't
  • The Doctor is not seen wearing his regular costume here; one wonders just how much Goss had to work on before doing this - always an issue with first novel batches.
  • The resolution to the main threat seems a bit simple... also I'm not sure that level of horror needed to be 'seen'.

Conclusion
An excellent novel with a lot of humour, but the climax leaves a bit to be desired.

9/10

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Phoenix Mini-Convention today

Phoenix's first mini-convention, themed around Firefly and Serenity, is on today.

The schedule can be found here and the chat room here.

RavenSkycatcher resumes GM responsibilites for 'The Dark Cometh'

After six months away, the creator of one of our most active and popular sims, RavenSkycatcher, has returned to Phoenix Roleplaying. He has agreed to return as GM of the game and hopefully will help it return to its record-breaking activity levels.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Right on target (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.3, "Robot of Sherwood")

Mark Gatiss wrote two stories for the second half of Season 33, "Cold War" and "The Crimson Horror"; with this story, he's definitely going to be asked back.
  • The new title sequence is definitely growing on me.
  • This is the first non-Moff Capaldi episode and it's always a risk with the first season of a Doctor when others write for him. In this case Gatiss did a great job, with a very funny episode (with a lot of jokes both subtle and less so)(, although there perhaps could have been a bit more steel and alien-ness.
  • Clara was really good in this episode; as I've mentioned previously, she's improved a lot this year. Her scene in the castle
  • Ben Miller was a great Sheriff with some lovely lines; his ability to play snarky has been showcased in many things I've watched and he was allowed to do it without going to Keith Allen levels of ham.
  • We had a great Robin Hood here, while a bit deliberately one-note and Errol Flynn-esque, that served for some great 'bantering' with the Doctor.
  • The scene with the archery was great and ended just when it should.
  • The robots were good, but any weapon that takes that long to charge up isn't a great one.
  • I like the extra features that have been added to the console room; it really fills it out.
  • Nice Troughton cameo!
  • I see we've got our arc words going now.
Conclusion

That was really enjoyable, although I admit it's a bit lightweight. But nothing wrong with lightweight.

9/10

Well it had to happen eventually {Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.4, "Listen")

Steven Moffat has written a clunker; well at least it took him nine years to actually do so. This episode dragged its way through 45 minutes and I was literally waiting for the thing to end.
  • Ah, the problems of dating a time traveller; I bet that the dress went down well with the male fans though. I also couldn't help wondering if I'd walked past the restaurant on the walking tour I did.
  • Capaldi did the best he could, but the material really wasn't there this week.
  • Again, high praise for Jenna Coleman; she's churning out some great performances.
  • Those TARDIS telepathic circuits would have been really useful in some past stories!
  • Lovely to see the psychic paper again.
  • I guess they were trying to save money on this one; there was next to no CGI.
  • Why would Colonel Pink have a Sanctuary Base Six space suit? The only logical explanation would be that the Doctor leant it to him.
  • One positive part of this is the set; we got to see it in all its glory, with characters going up and down several levels.
  • The twist as to the whole tale at the end was well done and I believe that [spoiler] would be the youngest ever [spoiler]
  • Some nice callbacks here at times.

Conclusion

The ending was nice and touching... it's a deep shame that the rest of the episode was rubbish.

3/10

Monday, 8 September 2014

Phoenix gets a chat system

After four years, Phoenix now has a dedicated IM chat system on ChatWing. Go here to check it out - you will need to register for full functionality.

We will be using this for the upcoming mini-convention; details to follow.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Longest Season ('Doctor Who' Season 33, 2011-13)


After over two years, a huge amount of research and a considerable amount of stat entry, the end is in sight. This post and a final conclusion post will conclude the longest series I have ever run on this blog... I'm not planning to do anything this big for a long time. I won't be posting anything in this on the Capaldi series as I'm posting plenty on that already.

****
The biggest impact of the budget cuts was possibly the fact the next season of the show would not start properly until September 2012; at least that's what Private Eye thought. Certainly there was a desire to move the show to the autumn, where shorter days and poorer weather would boost viewing figures; the split Season 33 would cover five episodes in the autumn and eight in the spring of 2013. Combined with no less than three Christmas specials and an anniversary special, there's a lot to cover here.

2012 also saw a huge scandal rock the BBC and British television in general. On 3 October, ITV's aired Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, alleging the late DJ and BBC presenter had been engaged in paedophilia with several children. The subsequent investigations determined Savile (who had as mentioned arranged a mini episode of Doctor Who as one wish on his show Jim'll Fix It) had as many as 589 possible victims. The subsequent police investigation, Operation Yewtree, resulted in 11 arrests and has recently obtained its first convictions, of publicist Max Clifford, who was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault, some of which would constitute rape under today's laws and then of Rolf Harris. The whole scandal briefly touched Doctor Who, with allegations that former producer John-Nathan Turner propositioned the then 17 year old author of a book about him and that JNT's partner Gary Downie actually sexually assaulted him; with both men dead and the former's actions only illegal due to the then unequal age of consent between heterosexual and homosexual couples, the story did not stay in the headlines for long.

****
With the 50th anniversary looming strongly in everyone's vision, many fans would take the opportunity to revisit the show's long history... including yours truly. The BBC and various other channels would show documentaries looking back at the first 50 years, with the former also commissioning (as I predicted in the very first article in this series) a drama about the show's creation, An Adventure in Space and Time, which was really rather good and featured a surprise cameo. A large official anniversary convention would also be held at the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands, which I attended and mostly enjoyed.
There would be production changes in the top; both Beth Willis and Piers Wenger left the show, the former not having any participation in Season 33 and the latter only doing the 2011 Christmas special. Caroline Skinner would be exec producer number two for the rest of this run, but she departed after "The Name of the Doctor". Moffat. who wrote eight episodes of this run, remains the showrunner.
Indeed, the name of the Doctor was something that would loom very large in the anniversary year. Please note that this is a somewhat more spoilery article than the previous ones.
(Mini episodes will not be included here unless they are of real note)

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe (60 minute Christmas special)
In 1941, a widow takes her two children to a country house with a very unusual caretaker...
Inspired by CS Lewis' Narnia series (although with less religion)[1], this special contains a few sprouts, but the rest of the meal is very good; Moffat's wit sparkles and Matt Smith is truly superb. Claire Skinner, known at this time for her role in Outnumbered, is also great.

Good as Gold (3 minute mini-episode aired on Blue Peter)
The Doctor and Amy land in London as the Olympics open.

This scene, which was another school script competition winner, takes place entirely in the TARDIS. Ironically enough, the fourth-wall-breaking competition announcement video asked for entries not to be set at London 2012 as the Doctor had already been there.

*****
The move to an autumn airing meant that the first episode proper of Season 33 did not air until 1 September 2012; at the end of the summer holidays; indeed, the next season didn't air until 23 August 2014. When it arrived, there would be a huge surprise for audiences, who knew that there would be a new companion, knew who was playing her... but wasn't expecting for her to appear quite so soon.

The title sequence would be modified for this first half slightly; different font, slightly out of focus and some colour adjustments. The official website also debuted 'movie-style' posters for each episode, something that will hopefully continue into the future as some of them were really rather good.

Pond Life (Five online mini episodes)
A 'prequel' to the first story, this sees the Doctor popping in on Amy and Rory as the latter two's marriage begins to break down. Some enjoyable moments and a great unusual moment involving an Ood.

Can be found here.

Asylum of the Daleks (50 minutes)
The Doctor, Rory and Amy are kidnapped by the Daleks, who force them to breach the Dalek Asylum, where they send the insane Daleks. The Doctor has to save the day and his companions' marriage; in the process he will have this first encounter with a very important woman.
A highly enjoyable opener with a lot of memorable scenes; this story is however far more notable for the surprise appearance of Jenna Coleman, something kept secret by the media press of three different countries who had seen the preview screenings.

The Impossible Girl - Clara Oswald
A 21st century woman... or a future soufflé chef... or a governess in Victorian England moonlighting as a barmaid? Just whom, apparently a sassy confident woman is Clara Oswald?[2]

Jenna Coleman (1986-present), credited until "The Name of the Doctor" as Jenna-Louise Coleman, started her acting career at school in a theatre company called In Yer Space. While auditioning for drama schools, she was cast in the ITV rural soap opera Emmerdale as Jasmine Thomas in 2005 and spent four years in the show. While there, she was nominated for a number of awards, including at the 2009 British Soap Awards getting nods for Best Actress, Best Dramatic Performance and... er.... Sexiest Female.
After this she joined BBC school drama Waterloo Road; she appeared in nine episodes of the show's fifth season as pupil Lindsay James[3]. She had a small role in the first Captain America movie in 2011 and filmed an adaptation of John Braine's novel Room at the Top that wasn't aired until September 2012 due to a rights dispute.
Since becoming Clara, she also appeared in a three part adaptation of PD James' sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
In 2357, the Doctor is asked by the Indian Space Agency to investigate an unidentified spaceship heading for Earth. He assembles a motley team, including Queen Nefertiti, the Ponds... and Rory's dad, Brian.

While the title is certainly interesting and the episode starts off with great promise, I was rather bored by the end... this narrowly avoids being a clunker. Arthur Williams is one of the better parts of this episode.

A Town Called Mercy
Team TARDIS arrive in Mercy, Nevada in 1870, where the town is under siege from a mysterious alien gunslinger...

When filming a spaghetti western, there is only one place to go... Spain[4]. This is a good and thought-provoking episode, featuring Ben Browder (Stargate SG-1) in a role where he chooses not to ham it up, but this isn't a classic, featuring a cop-out ending.

The Power of Three
A huge number of small black cubes suddenly appear all over Earth. Why are they here? The Doctor and UNIT try to find out.
While it's good to see UNIT back in the show (especially Jemma Redgrave as the Brig's daughter), this Chibnall episode is distinctly average.

The Angels Take Manhattan
A simple trip to New York goes horribly wrong when Team TARDIS meet the Weeping Angels.
A sad, but emotionally complete departure episode for Rory and Amy; this contains many a great moment and location filming in New York City.

This was followed by the webcast P.S, a storyboard animation of a dropped scene where Rory's father reads a letter from him.

****

At this point, the show moved production from Upper Boat to Roath Lock, where it shares the studios with Casualty and Welsh-language soap opera Pobol y Cwm ("People of the Valley"), among others. Unable to take the TARDIS set with them as it was too integrated into the studio, a new interior was created at the latter.

There was also a new title sequence, bringing back the Doctor's face, accompanied by yet another Murray Gold arrangement of the theme.

The Snowmen (Christmas special)
Mourning the departure of Amy and Rory, the Doctor retires to Victorian England. However, the Paternoster Gang and a young barmaid bring him into a fight against an old foe that uses killer snowmen...

A highly enjoyable festive episode that acts as a sequel-prequel to two Troughton stories and has great turns from Richard E Grant, along with Ian McKellen in the voice department.

One Born Every Minute (Comic Relief skit)
Far more a spoof of the Channel 4 documentary series about people giving birth with characters from Call The Midwife and the Doctor turning up near the end

Didn't actually see this at the time (I didn't bother with that year's telethon at all) and the YouTube version is incomplete; you'll have to go to iTunes.

The Bells of Saint John
When nanny Clara Oswald has internet problems, she's given a phone number... and the Doctor answers, pulling her into an adventure featuring some very dodgy wifi.
After a slow start, this becomes a highly enjoyable episode, with a number of great lines and some actual location filming in London, as opposed to Cardiff playing London.

The Rings of Akhaten

Clara leaves Earth with the Doctor and goes to a festival on an alien world, where an old god is waking up…
A lot of money is thrown at the many aliens in this... but not at the script. It's a snooze-fest of an episode. Clara is great, but some of Matt Smith's Time Lord grandstanding fails to fully convince.

Cold War
The Doctor and Clara arrive on a sunken Soviet nuclear missile submarine... and there's also an Ice Warrior on board.

One of my personal faves from this run - it helps that I'm a Cold War 'enthusiast' (nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there... I was born just at the end and don't remember it) and this ep also contains two actors who have been in Game of Thrones, most notably Liam Cunningham, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth, one of my personal favourite characters - as well as a stuntman and of course a writer. This shoot saw the cast spend most of their time dripping wet.

Hide
Arriving at a haunted house in 1974, the Doctor and Clara team up with two ghost hunters to find the "Witch in the Well", who has appeared across human history.

While there were a lot of enjoyable moments and some great guest actors (including one from Call the Midwife), this kind of loses something towards the end. The writer, Neil Cross, has explicitly said that BBC ghost dramas of the 1970s such as The Stone Tape were big influences in this tale.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Doctor and Clara encounter a group of salvage merchants who want the TARDIS... and it could lead to the ship's destruction.

Notable for having one of the smallest casts in the show's history (and all three of the guests from an ethnic minority to boot), this is an enjoyable tale, but lags and has a frankly cop-out ending.
The Crimson Horror
The Doctor, Clara and some of their pals try to stop an insane factory owner in 1893 Yorkshire.
Another very good Mark Gattiss-penned adventure, this episode guest-stars Dame Diana Rigg (and her real-life daughter), features another welcome appearance from the Paternoster Gang - including a great Sat-Nav joke and also allows Matt Smith to rock a bowler derby in a deliberate homage to Steed from The Avengers.

Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor, Clara and two children she is looking after travel to the biggest theme park in the universe... only to discover that is not only closed, but filled with Cybermen.
Enjoyable (especially where Matt Smith plays against himself), but not exactly great; a good amount of the fandom didn't like this one.

The Name of the Doctor
Trenzalore, the site of the Doctor's final battle... and where his greatest secret will be revealed.
The opening, featuring Clara inserted into some old footage is great, the final scene spectacular... and the rest frankly drags a little.  The cast isn't big, the money is clearly going on the effects and we finally get an explanation for Clara's presence. As mentioned, it's the ending that's the best bit... I knew Hurt would be in the anniversary special, but I didn't know who he was playing...

John Hurt - The War Doctor
The incarnation of the Doctor between Eight and Nine; the one who thought the Time War and who disowned the name "Doctor". His three successive incarnations hated him for the actions they believed he had committed at the end of the Time War i.e. destroy Gallifrey. When we actually meet him fully, he's definitely stern and determined, but there is a clear warmth and humour in him.

It was never likely that Christopher Eccleston would agree to return for the anniversary; he was politely asked and politely declined. Thus Steven Moffat chose to make a major alteration to the character and as a result, John Hurt would become the oldest ever actor to play the Doctor.

John Hurt (1940-) has had a very long and distinguished career; his passion for acting began while at school. After going to RADA in 1960, his first film was two years later and reached prominence in 1966 after his role in A Man for All Seasons. Five years later, his portrayal of Timothy Evans[5] (opposite the late Richard Attenborough) in 10 Rillington Place got him a BAFTA nomination and in 1975, his role in The Naked Civil Servant (an adaptation of the biography of gay icon Quentin Crisp) got him the first of his four gongs from the British Academy.
The notable roles continued to come in; he got Oscar-nominated for Midnight Express and in 1980, he got another nomination (as well as his third BAFTA) for his role as "John" Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man, a loose and at times inaccurate adaptation of the real life story of Joseph Merrick[6]. The film got eight Academy Award nominations, but won no statues; the controversy over a lack of a special award for the make-up led to the following year getting a new category for it.

The year before that, however, was his most iconic science fiction role; Kane in Alien, him of the infamous "chest burster" scene[7]... which he would later parody in Spaceballs.
I think, that you've now very much gotten the point - Hurt's been consistently high-profile for almost 50 years; he's never reached the heights of the A-list, but in a way, that might be a good thing.

****
In the gap between "Name" and "Day", Matt Smith announced that he would leave the role after the 2013 Christmas special; cue major speculation as to who would take on the role. In the end, the clear and obvious favourite (so clear that bookies started paying out), Peter Capaldi, got the role - he was the only person even considered. After an audition at Steven Moffat's house, he learned he got the role while in Prague filming The Musketeers. A live reveal show on BBC1 got six million viewers... and I got the TV Tropes article up pretty shortly afterwards.

The Night of the Doctor (7 minute red button minisode, also in YouTube and iPlayer)
On board a crashing spaceship, a woman calls for a doctor... but she doesn't get the one she's expecting. When she does, it marks the end of both of their lives and a huge change for the Doctor.
Dropped onto the Internet earlier than planned because of an imminent leak - it appeared on 14 November, the birthday of its star, this episode sees the surprise return of the Eighth Doctor (McGann had earlier denied his involvement in the anniversary!)... and his regeneration into the War Doctor. It was a huge and very welcome surprise; the web went crazy over it. Watch it here.

The Day of the Doctor (75 minute 50th anniversary special)
Three Doctors get involved in what will become the biggest and most important day of all the Time Lord's lives.

Shot in 3D for a special cinema broadcast that went out with a global simulcast (although New Zealand would get it ten minutes later; this appears to be due to not being allowed to broadcast a PGR program before 9am), this anniversary special takes a little while to get going, but once it does, it's a great celebration. The ending revises the entire lore without changing anything in the previous seasons and works very well; a suitably triumphant note.

The Time of the Doctor (60 minute Christmas special)
Thousands of alien ships are drawn to a small planet, where a message is being broadcast that will have huge implications for the Doctor.

The shortest regeneration story to date not counting "The Night of the Doctor", this one is also a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, the regeneration scene is very good, but much of the story is simply waiting for that moment (the five-minute breakdown of the episode ratings showed a spike near the end). That said, Handles was lovely.

****
"The Day of the Doctor" got 12.8 million viewers just in the UK; the highest rated show of the week, the highest rated drama anything in Britain of 2013 and the third highest rated programme of the year - the highest by a technicality (BARB's days end at 2am) were the 2014 New Year's fireworks). The global simulcast was record breaking, although totting up overall viewers for that is difficult and the cinema airings made over ten million US dollars. When Doctor Who Magazine held its poll on the first fifty years of the show's history in 2014, it went straight in at Number 1. Counting the 2011 and 2012 Christmas Specials, but not the ones after "Name", this run averaged 7.8m viewers.

The Hugo Awards saw the show gain four of the six[8] nominations for Dramatic Presentation Short Form, with "Name and "Day" getting nods, as well as BBC2's creation drama An Adventure in Time and Space and on-line comedy The Five(Ish) Doctors Rebooted (where Davison, Colin Baker and McCoy try to get in on the action to hilarious effect)... however, the award went to the Game of Thrones episode "The Rains of Castermere", not a huge surprise considering the impact of that episode.

What was undeniiable is that this Time Lord, now with a new set of regenerations, was still going strong.

****

[1]Lewis died on 22 November 1963, a day before the TV show started... and the same day as the Kennedy assassination. His death was only initially reported in the Oxford Mail (a local daily running since 1928) and was of course completely overshadowed by events in Dallas.
[2]This has been revealed, but we are now getting pretty spoilery for stuff broadcast just over a year ago now.
[3]This was after I had stopped watching the show, so I didn't see her in that.
[4]Many of the best known western films were done there, such as Sergio Leone's ones - the set is instantly recognisable. Doctor Who was also able to do some snow filming while there for part of "Asylum of the Daleks".
[5]A man falsely convicted and hanged in 1950 for the murder of his daughter actually committed by John Christie, his serial killer landlord, who killed at least eight women. Christie was caught in 1953 and was too sent the gallows, but only for the murder of his wife - the doubts raised about Evans' conviction later led to Evans getting a posthumous royal pardon. In 2003, the Court of Appeal refused to overturn his conviction, but did state they did not think he was responsible. 10 Rillington Place, where he committed his crimes, no longer exists. The street was renamed after Christie's conviction and later entirely demolished.
[6]Joseph Merrick (1862-1890) was a man with severe bodily deformities (that got progressively bigger) that to this day defy full medical classification. Unable to get regular work, he signed up to exhibit himself as a freak, almost making enough money to retire when he was robbed by his manager in Belgium of his life savings. Fortunately, he'd come to to the attention of renowned surgeon Frederick Treves (later Sir Frederick) - when Merrick was found at Liverpool Street station with his card on him, he was taken to the London Hospital. Treves eventually got the board to allow him to live there permanently; Merrick would later be visited by Princess Alexandra of Wales. He died in 1890 of asphyxia, believed to be as a result of the weight of his head when trying to sleep like 'normal' people instead of sitting up. The now Royal London has his skeleton in their private museum and a replica of it in their public one.
[7]The cast knew it would be bursting out of the fake chest, but not fake blood was going to go all over the place, including right in the face of Veronica Cartwright. She passed out, Yaphet Kotto went to his room and refused to talk to anyone, while an artist on seeing the dailies was so shocked he tried to go home in someone else's car. Seeing that the crew were wearing raincoats, perhaps they should have been more suspicious.
[8]It's usually five, but a tie in the nomination ballots between "The Name of the Doctor" and Orphan Black's "Variations Under Domestication" meant that both went through to the final ballot.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Small is not always beautiful (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.2, "Into the Dalek)

It's generally a case of when, rather than if, the Daleks will encounter a new Doctor. Troughton would get his in his first story... and Capaldi ties with Hartnell in regards of getting his debut with him in his second (Smith's was his third and Tom Baker his fourth).

So without further ado:
  • Capaldi hasn't failed to turn in a good performance in his two episodes and is clearly demonstrating his brusqueness here. I liked his reaction to someone pointing a gun at him at the beginning... and some of his remarks (the top layer one for example) clearly showcase an alien persona.
  • He's definitely a rude guy, that's for sure.
  • Clara did a great job as the Doctor's 'carer'; providing a moral conscience that he so badly needs; persuading him not to give up.
  • So, Danny Pink? A potentially interesting character; a charmer but with a traumatic past, especially if his reaction to a comment about killing a non-soldier means anything.
  • They are really throwing in some dark stuff here under the guise of semi-comedic scenes. I'm surprised that Clara retained her lunch.
  • These rebels really need better guns, that's for sure; they only managed to destroy one Dalek!
  • The new Dalek Paradigm has been shoved into the 'memory hole'; I doubt they'll ever be seen again on this show.
  • I've never actually seem Fantastic Voyage, so I can't really comment on that.
  • I must admit that the whole talking to the Dalek scene at the end frankly got a bit boring.
  • The Doctor's rejection of soldiers as companions... a new thing for this incarnation? He's generally not liked the military bar a few exceptions (the Brig), but still... definitely a bit I don't necessary like about his character.

Conclusion

A good, thought-provoking episode, but I was finding it rather draggy by the end.

7/10

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The same yet very different (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.1, "Deep Breath")

So after eight months, the 'Twelfth Doctor', as played by Peter Capaldi, finally makes his debut on our screens... and it was definitely worth the wait. The 80 minutes flew by and I highly enjoyed the episode.

Ten points from this:
  • Bit disappointed with the new title sequence; possibly it's the theme arrangement.
  • The Twelfth Doctor is excellent; even in his post-regeneration confusion. He's very alien in a much different way to his predecessor; while the jokes are still there, he's a much colder and more withdrawn character, looking pretty scary at times.
  • Clara seems to have been considerably better written here than at previous time; she sold the whole difficulty with accepting the Doctor's regeneration very well indeed.
  • The dinosaur was great to see (and I liked the joke about the neck), but it was obvious why it couldn't have stayed too long.
  • There was also some lovely Scottish jokes; remember both Moffat and Capaldi are from Scotland. The independent eyebrows joke in particular.
  • Indeed Moffat's script contained a number of superb bits of humour;
  • Great CGI all round; even with the budgetary issues the show is always facing, I never spotted anything ropey.
  • I liked the call back to a previous Moffat episode.
  • It was nice to see the Paternoster gang back again, but I wasn't too impressed with Strax, who lacked the number of funny lines that he got last time.
  • That was a lovely surprise appearance at the climax; I didn't know that was coming and I'm glad it wasn't leaked.

Conclusion

A superb start for a great new Doctor.

9/10

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Misty Wilson becomes Deputy General Coordinator

Jason Andersen has confirmed that Misty Wilson, currently the Contender, will also be his Deputy General Coordinator.

While this may seem strange, he has assured the membership this does not violate the site's legislation.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A full throttle adventure (Review: 'Doctor Who: Engines of War', 2014)


I believe that Steven Moffat now ties the record for most incarnations of the Doctor created under his tenure as showrunner; at three[1]. Eleven, Twelve (who seems to be getting excellent reviews from the "Deep Breath" previews) and the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt.

For those of you who haven't seen "The Day of the Doctor" yet (and why haven't you), the "War Doctor" is the incarnation of the Doctor between McGann and Eccleston; the one who fought the Time War and who as a result is the Doctor's biggest secret. A grouchy and stern old man who renounced the name 'Doctor', he is also a deeply compassionate individual who wants to end the war... although he is horrified at what he might have to do to end it.

After his three appearances in the TV show, the War Doctor is now making his first appearance in Doctor Who's vast expanded universe in an original novel by George Mann, who has previously written an Eleventh Doctor novel. From this, it's clear that he's more than just a one-trick pony.

Where we're at
Set towards the end of the War Doctor's long life (he ages a great deal between "Night of the Doctor " and "Day"), he doesn't have a regular companion and nor does he want to take the risk of acquiring one.

The plot
Arriving on the war-ravaged human planet of Moldox, the Doctor teams up with a local woman to stop a Dalek plot to win the Time War and gain control of all history.

What works
  • Cinder. The "guest companion" in this one is a Dalek hunter only known as 'Cinder', who lost her family in the Dalek invasion of her homeworld. She proves an able and fierce ally of the Doctor, who is willing to let her carry a weapon with her (provided she doesn't actually use it). Well written and very interesting.
  • The War Doctor. An excellently portrayed character both on screen and in print, this Doctor combines a strong heroic streak with the irreverent attitude demonstrated through all his incarnations... and maintains his standards through all the horror.
  • The Time Lords - we get the return of Rassilon as portrayed by Timothy Dalton and some extensive sequences on the Doctor's home planet, including one place I didn't expect. The rottenness in the state of Gallifrey is visibly dripping in these scenes and some very dodgy stuff is done.
  • The Daleks. Well developed, not prone to being defeated in stupid ways and their relationship with a certain Time Lord is well explained.
What doesn't
  • We get one recurring character too many coming back.

Conclusion
A superb novel featuring a Doctor who will hopefully become a more regular feature in the literature - he's fully earned his place here.

9/10

[1]John-Nathan Turner was in charge for the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors.

ksabers named Deputy EVC

In one of the first major governmental changes of the new administrations, Zuzutoo has named ksabers as his Deputy Elections and Voting Coordinator; he is already Sim Development Officer.

As yet, we do not have a Deputy General Coordinator, but one should soon follow.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Election Results 2014

Phoenix has a new General Coordinator after much-delayed elections; Jason Andersen becomes the third head of the club as we approach our 4th anniversary on Saturday. Elections Coordinator Kevin Diamond informed Phoenix of the results on Friday:

For General Coordinator the winner with 33% of the ranked voting is Jason Andersen. Third times the charm. The office of Contender goes to the second place Candidate with 27% of the vote, Misty Wilson.
Technical Coordinator we came out with a straight tie of 50% each... Assuming Jason wishes to keep his title of General Coordinator, that would mean that Euan Reid retains the sole possession of his keys to the Technical Coordinator position.

Quite literally one or two voters could have changed either of these races, so your votes have great value. Thank you to everyone that participated in the election of our governance. Congratulations all!

Jason then withdrew from the TC race, meaning that Euan spends a fourth term as Phoenix's tech head.

Silent Hunter stood down immediately as planned following the elections in which he did not run; Jason has allowed him to retain his posts as Twitter and Blog Admin Officers.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Bears do other things in the woods (Review: 'Doctor Who: The Scarlet Empress', 1998)

Yes, I admit that I've been picking these novels for a certain interest factor... and this one was chosen for it being the first appearance of a Time Lady called Iris Wildthyme. In fact it's the second, but never mind that.

****
I picked this BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures story up second hand on Amazon; I would like to thank the previous owner for adding some annotations to the pages that were actually helpful in explaining some jokes that I would have otherwise missed.

The 15th novel in the 73-book series, The Scarlet Empress was the second published DW work by prolific writer Paul Magrs (after a short story, also featuring Wildthyme, in the first Short Trips anthology[1]) who would later write the strange Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This is just as strange.
Where we're at
This is the early part of the Eighth Doctor's history; here he's travelling with the book-only companion Samantha 'Sam' Jones, a blonde, spiky woman from modern Earth... he likes those a lot, doesn't here.

The plot
The Doctor and Sam arrive on the planet Hyspero, a world of wonder, magic and the dangerous ruler called the Scarlet Empress. Teaming with Iris Wildthyme and a group of strange aliens, they engage in a epic journey across the planet.

What works
  • Iris Wildthyme a gin-soaked old lady who travels through the vortex in a double-decker bus that is smaller on the inside than out and is even dodgier than the TARDIS, is an enjoyable character with a lot going for her. She's also clearly a huge fibber, claiming adventures that we know the Doctor had. She also has a key weakness that is important to the plot.
    • It's worth pointing out that this is not the Katy Manning incarnation of the character; it's an earlier version, which I only found out about from TARDIS Data Core; this is the 'Beryl Reid' version, which works just as well.
  • Eight is well written and gets some good moments throughout the story.
  • There are some good meta-fictional discussions here, which the last owner happily pointed out.
  • There is definitely some strange and at times disturbing imagery; a trance with the seven previous Doctors' heads on spikes for example... as well as some bears who shave themselves and the heavily tattooed Scarlet Guards... who can meet a horrible fate.
What doesn't
  • Sam isn't a hugely impressive character; she has her moments, but there are far better out there.
  • The book itself is a bit hard to follow and the plot isn't always entirely clear.
  • The large number of past references can be a bit excessive... and suddenly going into first person mode for characters is a bit jarring.
Conclusion
An enjoyable tale with some very unusual imagery... but not one I'd read again in a hurry.
7/10
[1]A different version of Wildthyme appears in some non-Who novels by Magr.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Four candidates for General Coordinator

Following the election of Kevin Diamond as Elections Coordinator, he is now running the elections for our new General Coordinator.

With Silent Hunter retiring from the role, no less than four candidates have accepted their nominations for the leadership of this club:

  • Misty Wilson
  • Spart
  • Jason Andersen
  • ksabers
It's sure to hotly contested and may go to a runoff. You can ask questions of the candidates here. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

2014 Phoenix Awards voting has now commenced

Voting for the long overdue 2014 Phoenix Awards is under way, with ballot papers being sent to all registered members to vote on categories such as Player of the Year, Sim Leader of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.

If you have not got your ballot paper, please email or PM Election and Voting Coordinator Kevin Diamond, username 'Zuzutoo'.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Kevin Diamond becomes new Elections and Voting Coordinator


By a clear and emphatic margin, Kevin "Zuzutoo" Diamond has been elected the new Elections and Voting Coordinator of Phoenix Roleplaying, replacing Mischa Brendel, who had been filling the role on an acting basis.

He is in the process of running the election for a new General Coordinator, to replace the retiring Silent Hunter.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Elections reminder

If you've not voted in the EVC elections yet, you've only got until 1100 GMT (0400 PDT) tomorrow to do so. If you've not got an email, please check your spam or email the Acting EVC, Silent Hunter.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Mach Idol reborn

Osprey has asked for the resurrection of her innovative Mach Idol sim; this has garnered the necessary interest for the General Coordinator to approve the forum being moved from the Inactive section.

Please check it out here!

Fwd: A totally funky episode, man! (Review: 'Castle', 6.20, "That '70s Show")

Now in its sixth season with a seventh ordered (for a mid-season replacement back on 2009, it's done amazingly well), Richard Castle and Kate Beckett are still engaged in solving crimes... and now engaged to each other. Castle popped the question at the end of the fifth season when Beckett was offered a job in DC (that lasted three episodes) and she agreed.

As their wedding approaches, the crimes keep turning up. It's not like it takes Castle that long to write the novels.

****
Our two leads, after having to reject some more overbearing wedding-related ideas from Castle's well-meaning mother, are summoned to a crime scene where the body of a mobster who disappeared in 1978 has been found, buried in concrete. They quickly identify the key witness that they need to talk, the mobster's number two. Unfortunately, his grief for his missing friend means that he is still mentally in the 1970s... and in order to get the key information from him, they have to make him think its the decade of disco. This involves redecorating the 12th Precinct... and a lot of costumes.

Richard Castle has always been one to enjoy this sort of thing; Nathan Fillion's clearly having fun here and the character's 'Captain Castle' persona (he gets misidentified as Beckett's boss and rolls with it) is interesting, although not the best of the 1970s style takes here.

Beckett, the definite 'straight man' of the pair of them, is definitely one rarely up for this sort of thing; her discomfort with some of the sexist attitudes (and the general culture of the NYPD at the time) is plain to see, but the sight of her in 1970s 'hippy' gear is a superb moment, along with another when she has to try and act like a 1970s detective.

Speaking of 1970s detectives, Ryan and Esposito, the other double act in this show, watch a documentary on two Starsky and Hutch style cops, then promptly proceed to go the whole hog by dressing and acting as them... which includes Espo doing a car bonnet slide and stacking it at the end. The other recurring characters also get some great moments - Lanie's dress, Martha's hiring a batch of actors and Captain Gates' reaction when she discovers what has been going on while she was attending a terrorism seminar (it was cancelled due to a bomb threat), in addition to what she does at the end. Even Alexis (who has a limited role this year due to Molly C. Quinn going to college) gets a welcome appearance.

Best of all, while we don't get a great deal of plot between all the very funny jokes, it's another good mystery for the show with some lovely (and welcome) twists.

Conclusion

A very strong episode with genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a good overall payoff; Castle's 'costume' episodes are always great fun when they appear and I hope we get something else like this next season.

9/10

Sunday, 18 May 2014

From Russia With Gore (Review: 'Doctor Who: The Deviant Strain', 2005)

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120108124829/tardis/images/0/0b/Bbcnewseries4-ukhardback-alt.jpg

The short tenure, basically under three months, of the Ninth Doctor, means that there wasn't been a tremendous amount released featuring him at the time. While the revival of classic series novel publication may well mean some more, I'm only going to do one work featuring the Ninth Doctor.

So, courtesy of my local library, I am now looking at the fourth of the six Ninth Doctor tie-in novels, The Deviant Strain by Justin Richards

Where we're at

This is from the second half of his tenure; featuring the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack. Only the Doctor and Rose actually feature on the cover of the first edition; the later reprints don't feature Rose, possibly to due use-of-likeness issues after she left the show.

The plot

The three time travellers arrive in Russia in the early 21st century, at an abandoned Soviet naval base, where something from even before the base was built is awake and killing people. They team up with Russian special forces to find out what is going on... and stop it before it is too late.

What works

  • There's a strong atmosphere of decay and corrosion in the naval base... it's a good setting to do.
  • The regulars are realised pretty well, especially the Ninth Doctor.
  • The resolution to the threat is a good one and typically Doctor-ish.
  • This is a base-under-siege story, a well-worn Doctor Who staple and easy to do well.

What doesn't

  • The levels of gore depicted on page are arguably a bit more than what would be allowed in the show itself.
  • The Russian Spetsnaz are allowed to be a bit more gun-happy by the Doctor than one might normally expect.
  • Creatures that feed on people's life energies is so cliché. 
  • The prose is OK, but there is no real tension between the chapters; I could happily read one chapter a night and be satisfied with that
Conclusion

Enjoyable enough, but this is hardly a page-turner and there are frankly better novels out there for Nine. The Discontinuity Guide calls it "workmanlike" and I'm inclined to agree.

6/10



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